Outside the fortress gates

Madam, the doctor is around today. You can come for a consultation now’.

It was Fousiya. She had told me she would inform me when the dentist arrived. I needed a consultation.

I packed my bag and walked towards the dental college. I was in for a shock.

The little trail that led to the dental college was fringed by shady trees. They were only a few years old, but they were healthy and well looked after. Some were fruit trees. The spaces on either side had been converted into gardens. Gardens with traditional plants-

A few flowers here and there, but largely green.

Some were medicinal plants. The succulent leaves of the aloe vera plant were a treat to the eyes.

There were a few stone benches where one could sit in peace and escape into a solitary world. Or perhaps hold an intimate conversation with people. Or even have a quiet lunch. It was the perfect place to read or even write.

I feel nothing can replace the ambience created by trees and gardens. The trees set up a cover- the feeling of an enclosure within the realms of an open space. It reminded me of the Buddhist monastery I had visited. It reminded me of the concept of ‘Parks for reflection and study’. Perhaps such spaces are what our students in the modern world need to awaken their dormant instincts. Such spaces define luxury in modern times.

 

I was overcome by the desire to sit on one of these benches. The place reminded me of old Indian college campuses where trees and gardens set the mood. There was the sudden feeling of a slow liberation within me. The knots in my mind were loosening up and the emptiness was giving way to delight and exhilaration. Though this segment formed only a tiny part of the campus, it instilled hope-

It was the oasis in the desert.

The trail ended and the dental college stared at me, set in a small campus of its own. A campus far more luxuriant than ours. For it was full of trees. The cars were parked in the shade of these trees and I thought about my car roasting in the sun.

I couldn’t understand why the dental college was so green and the medical college so devoid of life.

I went in and Fousiya appeared. She took me to the dentist and following the consultation, she took me to her own department in the basement. I was thrilled by the colourful wall decors that transformed the dull grey walls into a fantasy world. The faculty had handcrafted paper tulips and leaves and pasted them on the wall. I thought of the walls in my department. The only adornment they bore were grim notices staring forbiddingly. Something had to be done about it. Students would certainly take to the idea of breathing in some life into those walls. It was important to make them think of the department as their space, and such involvement was also crucial in removing their phobia of the department and of academics. Sadly, the authorities do not take to such ideas. They always demonstrate an affinity for the grim.

I suppose they fail to understand the distinction between seriousness and sadism.

Meanwhile, Fousiya took me to the backyard. The place was wild- the way it had always been. The landscape here had not been manipulated and it merged into the surrounding landscape. There was a soft wind and the leaves rustled.

This is where I always come when I am disturbed. I am so glad this space is accessible from my department. When I stand here, beneath the sky, amidst these trees and stare at the little hills yonder, all my troubles vanish’ she said.

I needed no explanation on that. Anne Frank had spoken the same words. Perhaps all our work spaces desperately need a reconnect with nature. Not the plush gardens and lawns of our corporate offices, but the wilderness that is calming to the senses. It heals.

It is time we broke the walls and fences of our fortresses.

We stood there for a while, breathing in the air fragrant with the scent of herbs and berries. Nature always finds its own ways to reward those who are loyal to it.

I finally bid goodbye to her and walked back to the medical college campus. On my way, I passed the gardens. They belonged there. And I belonged here, with them. I had struck a bonding with these trees and gardens. The feeling was akin to a new friendship.

I had to go the bank. I decided to walk. It was only a 10-minutes walk. Besides, I wanted to walk today. The trees I had discovered today in the course of my walk to the dental college, urged me to take a walk.

I love walking. Not across narrow, congested streets. But across rural terrain. It is a treat to the senses. I love climbing hills. I love walking across the ridges that partition the fields. I love walking aimlessly across groves and orchards. I love walking on the banks of rivers. It is when you walk that the world comes to you. Walking transforms you into a little child, eager to explore the world. It is when you walk that you take notice of the touch-me-not that recoils at your touch, the pebbles that entice you to pick them up, the pretty wild flowers that hide beneath the carpet of weeds and the bees and butterflies that speak of an enchanting world. It is only when you walk that you hear the delightful din of the birds and insects that breaks the silence of this wilderness. It is only when you walk that you feel the caress of the wind that brings with it the fragrance of moist tropical earth. Only walking allows you this necessary engagement with nature to make you feel a part of it.

I stepped out of the college gate and was delighted to find the idavazhi that led to the houses in the neighbourhood. The branch of a cashew tree arched over the alley and cast a shadow on it. I love such alleys. They merge into the natural geography of the landscape without disrupting its integrity. With muddy walls that rise high on either side, they have always been paths where I lose myself into reveries. I go back in time. It is always a déjà vu feeling for me.

I love landscapes that are detached from the chaos of human life. Landscapes that stretch out infinitely with only the fields, livestock and coconut palm/arecanut plantations speaking of human life. It was unbelievable to have retained this kind of an environment in the premises adjoining a medical college. Truly a luxury in modern times. A few cars passed by occasionally. Not a soul walked on the street. A stork landed on the paddy fields that lay on one side of the road. Narrow mud trails wound across the wilderness like serpents in the monsoons…

The kind of paths that our ancestors walked on dark nights, waving flame torches as they walked.

The memories I hold closest to my heart are painted on a canvas of raw earth. Raw earth that feeds the forests, gardens and fields. Raw earth that takes the shape of mud trails that wind across wild orchards like serpents in the monsoons. Raw earth that takes the shape of ridges that partition the fields. The hills and the plains. The fields and deserts. Raw earth that speaks of man’s toil. Of his fruits of labour. Of his tears. Of his deep rooted association with nature.
It is the landscape that remains most vivid in my perception. It thus forms the backdrop for all my memories. It sets the tone for all my memories. People animate against this backdrop. And so, as these landscapes disappear in real life, my memories are robbed of their tone. And what are memories without their tone?

 

I finished my work at the bank and walked back. The off roads beckoned to me, but today was not the day. I needed to come back with my camera. The college bus passed by. The driver slowed down, but I signaled that I wanted to walk. The bus speeded off and I resumed walking. A car honked and I moved aside. But the car stopped by my side. It was Lakshmanettan. Much as I tried explaining that I had opted to walk, he refused to let me walk.

You can sit on the side and enjoy nature while I drive’, he said to me.

I did not wish to belittle his feelings and so, I decided to sit in the car.

This place hasn’t changed at all. I hope it remains this way forever!’ I remarked as we drove past the orchards and fields.

I won’t speak to you. You make me sad with your decision of staying single’ he said to me.

I smiled.

Don’t worry, Lakshmanetta. God helps those who help themselves’ I replied.

He grimaced.

Lakshmanettan is one of the few people whom I love dearly despite the fact that he cannot relate to my perspective of life. That is because he genuinely cares. He is so full of warmth and sincerity that nothing else matters.

He dropped me at the reception and I took the stairs to the clinic. I met Venugopal sir and we resumed our discussion on the saga of social transformation.

When I got back to the department, there was a student waiting for me. I taught her a few concepts in Physiology.

It was a beautiful day. In the evening, I drove without pushing myself to overtake and compete.

I drove in synchrony with the songs I played. In synchrony with nature that accompanied me all through the journey. In synchrony with the song in my heart.

I am learning.

 

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GREEN THOUGHTS

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The 5th of June: World Environment Day.

The newspaper was alive with stories of environmental initiatives. Initiatives by individuals and by organizations. Individuals who demonstrated commitment to their cause and fought all the obstacles that constantly threatened to drown their efforts at environment conservation. Organizations that awakened to the threat posed by the ruthless human manipulation of the environment. Government initiatives to take up projects directed at environment conservation.

The stories were heartening for they identified individuals and organizations who believed that the environment is our collective responsibility. In the light of the contemporary attitude that the environment is the responsibility of environmentalists and nature activists, these stories certainly brought a warm glow within.

 

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In the evening, I attended a meeting that aimed at setting up a district tree conservation committee. The idea was to give a public dimension to environmental concerns. It is high time we realize that our governments have no political accountability and in the absence of political accountability, it is futile to talk about democracy. In such a setting, the public must come to the forefront and take charge of issues that collectively concern us. Citizens in every village/city/district must come together as a team, identify challenges and concerns of their region, and set up their own committees to tackle these challenges. The team must ideally be constituted by volunteers who demonstrate true passion and a genuine concern towards the issue. It is only then that we shall succeed in uprooting the existing political scenario, which is largely driven by power and money. It is only when we create a model of reference for a system that the system is compelled to change and transform.

The individuals that had gathered here today were hard core nature enthusiasts and tree lovers. Their commitment towards their cause was palpable and therefore, infectious.

The discussion started on a casual note. Someone mentioned the newspaper report on the biodiversity park being revived by Kannur University:

Good initiative by the Kannur University in terms of the aquatic biodiversity park project that is being revived and conserved.’

An elderly gentleman laughed and shed light on the fact:

“ The campus used to be a wetland area before it was reclaimed for various developmental activities, destroying the rich flora and fauna in the area. Most of the area has been irreparably destroyed and all that is left is this tiny strip that has gained much publicity in terms of the revival and conservation efforts. The mass destruction went unnoticed and without publicity. When we destroy an element of nature, do we ever take permission from the thousands of creatures that are feeding off that ecosystem? 

I was moved by his passion and the deep grief that was palpable in his words. He continued:

“ Didn’t you read the newspaper today? There is avid tree-planting going on in the city today. Oh, how commendable! Do you have any idea how much fund is allocated for such initiatives? It is only the middlemen who benefit from such initiatives. The government allots funds and only a small portion of that fund goes into the affair. Besides, does anybody contemplate on where to plant trees, their viability and their further nurturing? 

He echoed his thoughts on Madayipara with misty eyes:

Have you not heard of Madayipara? It is nothing short of paradise. It is a hill, rich in its biodiversity, with medicinal herbs that are nowhere to be found today.  Madayipara is bare of trees and that attracts migratory birds as they migrate towards South East Asia. You see, they don’t arrive in search of Madayipara as a destination. When they fly overhead, they are attracted to the sight of this vast expanse of a flat hill with a lake, bare of trees, and they decide to explore the place. It is then that they decide to stop over.

Imagine then the thoughtlessness of the political initiative to plant trees on this hill. Not only does it lack viability on account of the geographic conditions of the soil, but it also disturbs the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai/india-may-have-lost-siberian-cranes-for-ever/story-chnIhMmHJisVMPjEo0QKbI.html

I found myself moved by this 70-year old man whose passion for the environment had transformed him into a true environmentalist. He awakened me to the realization that formal degrees have so little to do with one’s passion and potential. The man reflected such deep contentment in his engagement with nature and his efforts at environment conservation that I made up my mind that I would participate in the nature expeditions he conducts. He was so fluent in Malayalam and English with such a rich choice of words that the superfluous youngsters of this generation would certainly cringe.

Of what significance are all your external labels- your educational qualifications, your attire, your accent, and all aspects of your external self when your internal self cannot live up to that?

 

Madayipara is a laterite hill located in Pazhayangadi in Kannur district. Madayipara is a significant spot owing to its bio-diversity as well as history. With regard to the bio-diversity of Madayipara, it has been found that the region contains about 300 flowering plants, about 30 varieties of grass, and several insect-eating plant species. Madayipara is also home to several rare medicinal herbs, which are sought by people from near and far off places. Coming to avian life, Madayipara sustains about 100 species of butterflies and about 150 species of birds. Among the biggest butterflies in the world, the Atlas butterfly is a visitor to Madayipara.

Madayipara is rooted into my childhood. It is a relationship that I share with the place. It pains me to see my childhood paradise being manipulated and destroyed under the banner of development or tourism”, he said to me.

 

I met yet another gentleman who laid down strong guidelines for the functioning of the committee. He recommended a tree survey as the first step in the conservation of trees. And thus, with the help of an expert, we start a tree survey on Saturday. The survey would include data on the trees in the public places in a defined locality, including details such as the age of the tree, its current status, its viability, etc. This would therefore enable a monitoring of these trees- a small step towards what this team envisages as a significant project in the future. He shed more light on the rules that are conveniently forgotten in the name of development:

As part of the government scheme to develop roads within the state, certain roads were identified to be in need of widening. One stretch of road that runs in Pazhayangadi in Kannur district was part of this project. Huge trees fringed this road. As per rule, the felling of one tree must be supplemented by the planting of ten saplings of a similar species. Funds are allocated for the same. Not a single sapling was planted.

I now understand why it is important to involve people who have a deep understanding of an issue when we tackle issues. The answer to our environmental issues does not really lie in planting trees on World Environment Day. Every district must form an environment conservation committee constituted by nature enthusiasts and experts. They must provide the direction for a political execution of the project. Also, we must remember that it is perhaps more important to conserve existing ecosystems than to create new ecosystems. The wisdom of the elderly and the energy of the youth must be utilized.

Most importantly, we must remember that the environment is our collective responsibility. We must all therefore participate in such activities on our own terms under the guidance of such a team. We must relearn the art of establishing a relationship with our environment for we are all part of a larger whole and our integrity is rooted in the integrity of our environment.